Menstrual Phase: This is the first stage in the cycle and occurs due to unfertilized eggs. The lining of the uterus begins to shed and this makes up the period blood that leaves your body. Typically this phase lasts 3 to 7 days but this can vary.
Follicular Phase: During this time, hormones are released and signal to the ovaries to start producing follicles that contain immature eggs. The healthiest egg will be the one to mature; the lining of the uterus will then thicken to enable the embryo to grow. This phase can last on average for 11 to 27 days.
The Ovulation Phase: During this phase, the mature egg is released and can be fertilised by sperm. Typically this phase occurs in the middle of your cycle at around day 14.
Luteal Phase: Hormones are then released to keep the uterus lining thick and allow for the egg to implant. If the egg is fertilised and the person becomes pregnant, the body will produce hormones which maintain the pregnancy. If they do not get pregnant, the egg is reabsorbed into the body. This then triggers the menstrual phase of the cycle to begin again.
Tampons are perfectly safe to use however, they can cause Toxic-Shock Syndrome (TSS) if they are left in too long (over 8 hours), so it’s really important to change period products throughout the day. TSS can occur when bacterial infections enter the bloodstream, this can cause severe health complications.
Periods are unique to other blood, as it is a mix of blood and the inner lining of the uterus!
Bright red – Fresh blood and a steady flow, normally around the beginning and middle of your period.
Dark red – Old blood leaving the body, sometimes towards the end of your period.
Brown – Blood that has oxidised and therefore turned darker, typically signals the end of your period.
Black – This can be very old blood that has taken longer to pass through your body and therefore has further oxidised to create an even darker appearance.
Pink – Period blood that is mixed with cervical fluid can create a pink tint, this can occur around the beginning and end of your period. Pink blood that occurs outside of your period cycle can be caused by some contraceptive pills.
Grey – Grey blood may be older period blood but can also be a sign of bacterial vaginosis. If you are experiencing any itching, burning or unusual vaginal odours then please tell your parent or guardian.
Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, also known as PMDD, is a severe form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). PMDD typically occurs during the last phase of the menstrual cycle, the Luteal phase, this is the phase that is just before a person begins menstruating again.
PMDD causes a range of physical symptoms such as; headaches, sleep problems, bloating and muscle pain. When experiencing PMDD some people may also feel suicidal, having mood swings, loose interest in activities they enjoy, feel anxious, feel overwhelmed, feel irritable and having difficulty concentrating. A lot of these symptoms are similar to that of PMS, which many people experience. However, the difference with PMDD is that these symptoms are much more overwhelming and begin to negatively impact a person life. For instance, making it difficult for them to go to work, spend time with friends and family or maintain healthy relationships.
The menopause occurs when periods completely stop, this typically happen around the age of 45-55 however, this can be earlier or later for some people.
Perimenopause happens when a person gets the symptoms of the menopause before their periods actually stop. Typically, menopause is reached when periods have stopped for 12 months.
Physical symptoms include; irregular periods which then eventually stop all together, hot flushes, headaches, joint and muscle pain, itchy skin, reduced sex drive, vaginal dryness and heart palpitations.
Many people begin to go through changes in how they feel emotionally due to their fluctuating hormones and they may experience; low mood, anxiety and mood swings. People can also start to experience impacts on their cognitive function such as; brain fog, trouble concentrating and difficulty remembering things.
1 in 10 women of reproductive age in the UK suffer from endometriosis (Endometriosis UK). Endometriosis is a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the womb starts to grow in other places, such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes. Symptoms include:
Pain in lower tummy or back (worse during period)
Period pain that interferes with every day life
Pain during or after sex
Pain when peeing or pooing during your period
Blood in your wee during your period
Difficulty getting pregnant.
If you have any symptoms of endometriosis, especially if they are having an impact on your life, then please contact your GP.
Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that is found anywhere in the cervix. The cervix is the opening between the vagina and the womb (uterus), it is part of the reproductive system and is sometimes called the neck of the womb. Nearly all cervical cancers are caused by infection from types of the human papillomavirus (HPV). Symptoms include:
Bleeding during or after sex
Bleeding between periods
Bleeding after you’ve been through the menopause
Pain in lower back or pelvis
Severe pain by kidneys
Blood in wee
Swelling in both or one leg
Losing control of bladder or bowels
Do not miss out on your cervical screening appointment after the age of 25 and if you have any concerns please contact your GP.
Conventional single use period products are typically made from non organic cotton – which is an extremely thirsty plant, it can take up to 20,000 litres of water to grow 1kg of non-organic cotton (GLASA, 2015)! Additionally, conventional tampons contain around 6% plastic and conventional pads can contain up to 90% plastic (WEN, 2018)! – this means 1 pack of pads is equivalent to around 5 plastic bags (Natracare, 2019). These micro-plastics can have a negative impact on our planet, 2 billion period products are flushed down the toilet each year (WEN, 2021) – these products then enter rivers and oceans, having devastating consequences for our wildlife and natural ecosystems. Additionally, 200,000 tonnes of menstrual waste is disposed of each year in the UK (WEN, 2018) and these conventional period products can take around 500 years to decompose in a landfill! (UNEP, 2021).
Sustainable single-use period products are certified organic and free from harmful chemicals. Organic cotton uses 71% less water and 62% less energy than traditional cotton (Grace & Green). If you switched to certified organic cotton products for just two of your periods you could save enough drinking water for 1 person for 900 days (WEN, 2018). Switching to reusable products is likely to have the biggest impact in terms of saving energy and resources, although they are not suitable for everyone and require some level of maintenance. For example, menstrual cups are designed to last up to 10 years, meaning there is less waste and less resources for production (Grace & Green).
Simply put, period poverty refers to a lack of access to safe period products due to financial constraints. However, the issue is deeper and more complex than this. Period poverty is also said to be reinforced through the social and cultural stigma of periods, and limited education around menstrual management and menstrual health.